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“I’m sorry, Frog.”

This was Parker’s apology to me for making me read a tearjerker of a book out loud. Rules was an excellent book. I kept the tears at bay for much longer when I finished reading it to the kids. Yesterday was a different story. I wanted to keep reading even if our hour was over. While the kids played I sobbed through the rest of the book. Rinse, lather, repeat today.

Rules is a book about a 12 year old girl who babysits her younger brother with autism. The author wrote the book because she has a son with autism. When her daughter asked why there weren’t any stories about families like theirs, she knew she needed to just write one. It was her first novel and it deserved the literary awards it received.

It wasn’t the aspect of children with special needs that touched me as much as Catherine needing her parents too. That was what turned on the water works for me. She was trying so hard to fit in but felt caught between two worlds, not really fitting into either. It ripped my heart out.

Ever since I finished the book, the first time, I keep thinking about my own experiences with children who have special needs. As an elementary student, I had the unique opportunity to be asked to work with younger students who were struggling academically. Maybe that was the beginning. I have always rooted for the underdog. And I love unlocking someone’s potential by simply having faith in them.

I remember sitting in my required Intro to Special Ed class in college and feeling the hair on my arms raise. It was as if I had found my mission in life. That was when I decided I was majoring in Special Education. I would feel bad that I didn’t do much with that degree. I only taught one year as a mild/moderate Resource teacher. My entire teaching career lasted three years before I chose to stay home to have children. My Special Education degree was best put to use when I was a Regular Ed teacher. There are of course plenty of memories of times in my life when my Christlike love for everyone, disability or otherwise, has blessed both our lives.

I have had other people tell me that they know someone who has quit, or is thinking of quitting a job with troubled youth. It angers me. How can anyone be afraid of someone who clearly is in need of love? Look past the rough exterior to see the needs underneath. That’s all it takes. Are we not all beggars?

I have seen people hold those with special needs to a higher standard. It’s noble and I understand where their heart is. But it’s also completely unfair. In an effort to treat everyone the same and overlook the challenges some face, what people are actually doing is giving the able minded a free pass to do whatever they want while expecting those with special needs to follow the rules to a T. It’s unfair and it angers me. The spirit of the law is just as important as the letter of the law. I would give an example but it’s best I keep it to myself right now.

It’s not even a case of unfairly treating those with a medical diagnosis of imperfectness. We do this to people we consider “normal” who may be struggling mentally for one reason or another. Just because someone is taking things harder than we have in a similar situation does not mean they are wrong. It doesn’t mean we should hold them to that higher standard thinking they just need to buck up and getter over it. Having a hard time is having a hard time. Treat others with love and compassion.

I try not to judge others. I have seen students pass standardized tests because I have asked them to show me what they know rather than join the list of adults who expect them to fail. I go out of my way to love the prickly people of the world. I try not to judge. I do though. I’m judging those who can’t appreciate the gifts the “ungifted” can offer. I’m judging those who have pretended all was well with me, forcing me to work that much harder, when they knew not all was well. I need to move past it but I am holding onto the hurt which inevitably only hurts me more.

Rules has brought up so many feelings.

My heart reaches out to families touched by special needs. At the same time I don’t understand why it’s becoming en vogue to want a child with special needs. I will never forget the day my principal quietly chastised me for telling a mother her daughter may not be pulled for Resource. Wasn’t it great! was my attitude. This mother didn’t care that her daughter was more academically advanced than any first grader, possibly even an incoming second grader. All she cared about was that her daughter had autism and she expected special treatment for her daughter. I don’t get that but I also don’t have the challenge of parenting such a child.

I can’t save the world but I believe we all can make a small difference. I also believe we have moments when we see clearly how to do that. I believe Catherine found her purpose in life through her brother David and her unlikely friendship with Jason. Stories about special needs or underdogs light a fire in me. Loving the unloved is my calling in life.

In the meantime Parker has a strange fascination with books that make me cry. When I asked which book I should read next he sheepishly said, “A sad one? Maybe Where the Red Fern Grows?” That would be a good one. I will probably blubber again if I read it out loud. It’s fine though. Some of these books hold many important lessons like “no toys in the fish tank” and “if you need to borrow words, Arnold Lobel wrote some good ones.”

“What are you laughing at, Frog?”
“I am laughing at you, Toad,” said Frog, “because you do look funny in your bathing suit.”
“Of course I do,” said Toad. Then he picked up his clothes and went home.”
The end.